The recent decision to relocate a proposed children’s playground from Ala Moana Regional Park to Kakaako Makai Gateway Park demonstrates not only the power of public pressure but also the grace of community compromise.

While the nonprofit group Paani Kakou pushing the park’s development still has a lot of work to do before the plan becomes reality, it is heartening to see that the group was willing to heed the tsunami of complaints about the initial plan. We hope that the good will shown will sustain as the project moves forward.

We are on record as arguing that the 1-acre park distinguished by zip lines and splash pads was a bad fit for Ala Moana, known rightly as the “people’s park.”

The fact that Paani Kakou’s directors include residents of the lux Park Lane condos directly across Ala Moana Boulevard with connections to the Kobayashi Group and MacNaughton Group just smelled funny, given all the political donations made to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and City Council members.

Kakaako Waterfront Park Kewalo Basin Harbor aerial.
A good fit for a children’s playground: Kakaako Waterfront Park, with the Children’s Discovery Center, Kakaako Makai Gateway Park and Kewalo Basin Park in the background. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

To the council’s credit, it opposed the Ala Moana location. And, while Caldwell stubbornly backed the plan until it was untenable, even he came around to the sensible notion that the city should go with a Plan B.

It will not be easy.

The greater Kakaako Makai area has been an unfortunate ground zero for homelessness, scaring away locals and tourists, hampering the operations of the Children’s Discovery Center and forcing for a time the closure of Kakaako Waterfront Park.

Fortunately, the sale and transfer of 16 Kakaako Makai parcels last month from the state’s Hawaii Community Development Authority to the city could lead to a much-needed rejuvenation of the blighted area. The city now controls both parks, adjoining parking lots, Ohe, Olomehani and Ahui streets and nearby Kewalo Basin Park, giving it the authority to provide the proper enforcement for security.

“It is no secret this area has had a tumultuous past,” Caldwell said at the time of the $2.25 million deal. “We hope that this transfer will help pave the way for a brighter future as we activate this area with positive public usage.”

Also encouraging is Paani Kakou’s decision to raise money through a public-private partnership with the city for a family bathroom at Ala Moana Park that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The outrage over the Ala Moana location often obscured the fact that the new park was intended to be inclusive by accommodating children with disabilities.

A children’s playground for Kakaako is far from a done deal.

Proponents say they are essentially starting again from square one, including new planning and permit approvals, buy-in from neighborhood boards and the Council and possibly an environmental study.

Given the degree of scrutiny for Plan A, the government, the media and the community will no doubt be paying close attention to Plan B.

As long as it passes muster, we believe the park’s new location in Kakaako is a better fit.

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